Conservation Triumphs on the Eighth Continent

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Pteropus rufus (flying foxes) soar over the bat net in Makira Natural Park, Madagascar, July 2015. (Photo by Cara Brook)

The sunset is purple and gold in Madagascar’s dampest and most biodiverse Makira-Masoala rainforest, and the flying foxes soar high over our nets, headed westward to feed for the night on the fruit trees that line the distant coast.

There is something about oceans—perhaps unsurprisingly—that speak to the ends of the Earth, and something about the Indian Ocean that speaks to this wonder so particularly well. I marvel that, some 2,500 years ago (we think!), Polynesians crossed this vast expanse of water in outrigger canoes and became the first humans to set foot on Madagascar. For 88 million years of prehistory, the Eighth Continent floated alone in this Indian Ocean expanse—an isolated evolutionary laboratory free from human influence—but today, one would be challenged to find an aspect of the Malagasy environment not marked by human presence.

At dusk under the bat net, I reread my personal Bible, John Steinbeck’s “Log from the Sea of Cortez.” “On a day like this,” he writes, “the mind goes outward and touches in all directions.”

A Year of Work Complete

For almost the entirety of the past year, I have been hiking, driving, and boating my way around Madagascar, collecting field data for my PhD research investigating risks for zoonosis, or animal-to-human transmission, of fruit bat-borne viruses on the Eighth Continent. It is the sentimental last week of my year-long field season, and I will return soon to Princeton University to continue laboratory and data analyses in an attempt to make sense of the treasure trove of data I have amassed over the past 13 months.

It’s a strange time to be on Madagascar’s northeastern peninsula, for Maroansetra, the gateway town to this rainforest paradise, is uniquely isolated from —> Read More